X’s Three Stars Of The Week (6/7/15 – 6/13/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Chris Heston (SP – San Francisco Giants)

Dominant pitching is very appealing around these parts, and it’s hard to be more dominant than Chris Heston was on Tuesday. In just his 13th career start Heston threw a no-hitter against the New York Mets, striking out 11 batters (a career high) while walking none. Only three batters reached base and they all did so the hard way, getting hit by pitches. Heston was at his best in the final inning, shaking off hitting the leadoff batter in the 9th and striking out the next three batters. One has to wonder why those final three Mets took called third strikes knowing what the situation was and how umpiring changes in those situations, but nonetheless it was a great performance by the 27-year-old rookie. Heston has been uneven is his performance this year, but this was his 7th start out of 12 giving up one or fewer earned runs. He’s been bad in the other five starts (in all fairness, two of the five bad starts were at the hitters Paradise known as Coors Field), but Heston has shown enough (especially on Tuesday) to prove he is indeed an up and comer to watch.

2. LeBron James (SF – Cleveland Cavaliers)

The NBA Finals has become a total mismatch on paper due to the Cavaliers’ expanding injury list, but LeBron James has done everything in his power to keep the series intriguing. James led Cleveland to two improbable wins, doing so by transforming into a volume scorer and doing great work on the glass. In the three games last week, James posted averages of 33.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 9.0 assists while playing over 45 minutes per game. The workload James has had to manage has affected him and his the primary culprit in his shooting an uncharacteristic 35.2% from the field over the last three games. However, James is still performing at an elite level for any Finals series, to the point where there are series discussions about whether or not he should receive the Bill Russell Finals MVP award even if the Cavaliers ultimately come up short. Granted some of that discussion is due to the fact that no Warrior has consistently stood out in this series, but the fact that this is even being considered speaks to just how impressive James has been.

3. Giancarlo Stanton (RF – Miami Marlins)

No one is baseball right now hits home runs with the authority that Giancarlo Stanton does. So when he starts hitting them in bunches, there aren’t many things more fun to watch. Stanton has been on an absolute tear, and in seven games last week he hit 12-26 (.462 batting average) with 5 HR and 12 RBI. As a team, the Marlins scored 26 runs last week and nearly half of those runs were driven in by Stanton. He collected five multi-hit games last week, raising his batting average by 26 points (.234 to .260) and his slugging percentage 72 points (.541 to .613) in the process. For the season, Stanton leads the majors with 23 home runs and 59 runs batted in. And according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, 5 of the top 10 longest home runs hit in the Major Leagues this year were hit by none other than Giancarlo Stanton. His team isn’t very good, but this guy alone is worth the price of admission if he comes to your town. He may just hit one out like this…

Thoughts on 2015 NBA Finals After 3 Games

Five of X’s thoughts on the Finals heading into Game 4…

1. LeBron James is the story.

Why not start with the obvious? It would be an historic performance if a player had 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists in any single Finals game. But that is what James has done on average through three games, without a ton of variance in any of those stats from game to game (especially in the scoring department). James has made the adjustment of playing outside of his character and comfort zone, going from being a natural facilitator who can score to being a volume shooter who must score. And keep in mind he is doing this against the team that ranked #1 in the NBA in defensive efficiency this year.

2. Cleveland’s “other guys” are better than you think.

While LeBron James is the story, he is NOT winning these games alone. Other guys have stepped up in a huge way. The Warriors were the best scoring team in the league this year, averaging 110.0 points on 47.8% shooting. In the Finals, the Warriors have failed to hit 100 points in regulation of any game and as was exemplified last night they are struggling to get to 40 points by halftime. In this series, they’ve dropped to 97.3 points per game (with two of the three games going into overtime) on 41.4% from the field. That’s called team defense – one guy can’t defend five no matter how good the one is. Matthew Dellavedova had his 3rd game of the postseason with at least 17 points in Game 3, despite that game only being his 4th start of the playoffs. He’s not “just a try hard” guy. Tristan Thompson is averaging 14 boards per game in the Finals and has had double digit rebounds in 8 of his last 9 games. Thompson’s 17 offensive rebounds in the Finals are more than the rest of the Cavaliers have combined. He is averaging 5.7 offensive rebounds – no other player in the series has had more than 4 offensive rebounds in any game. Iman Shumpert has a series-high 10 steals despite missing a good portion of Game 3 with a shoulder injury. Timofey Mozgov has 3 less free throw attempts than the Splash Brothers put together in this series. J.R. Smith produces just enough of his own offense to give James the occasional break from having to create for others. Basketball is a team game, and even the best player in the world needs some help. These role players are being called bums, but they are making significant contributions.

3. Harrison Barnes does not belong in this series.

0 points. 0 for 8 shooting from the field. 3 turnovers. 2 fouls. This was Harrison Barnes’ “contribution” to Game 3. If you’re thinking “Man, I can do that.”, you’re right. Add to this stat line that Barnes can’t slow LeBron James down in any sense of the word, and there’s simply no room for Barnes in this series. He has always been too passive, and the Warriors can’t afford that right now with their MVP still trying to find himself. Andre Iguodala has been the player in this series for Golden State who looks the most confident to me. Though he can’t stop LeBron, he has shown that he can make LeBron work twice as hard as he wants to, which is all you can ask. In my opinion, Iguodala needs to be starting, and should be on the floor every minute that James is out there. This is the Finals, no use in restricting minutes at this point.

4. More David Lee, please.

David Lee was dusted off and inserted into the lineup for 13 minutes in Game 3, and responded with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. I know he has fallen out of Steve Kerr’s favor for various reasons, but it’s time to see more of David Lee – at the expense of Andrew Bogut. Lee is every bit as good a passer as Bogut is, but he’s also a scoring threat from more than 5 feet away from the basket. Golden State needs to kick start their offense somehow, and inserting a big man who can knock down the mid range jumper may be one way to do it. Yes, this means the Warriors would have to go undersized. But it’s not as if their “big” lineup has done anything to keep Tristan Thompson off of the glass. So why not see if Lee can capture some of his old form. After all, he is only a year removed from being an 18 point/9 rebound per game guy.

5. Draymond Green is in “self-check” mode.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “self-check” is used for the guy who you intentionally leave open because you want him to shoot. Green has become that guy. He shot a miserable 3-15 from the field in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, and has brought those bricks with him to the NBA Finals. In this series, Green is shooting 8-30 from the field. That pace would make for a decent albeit uninspiring batting average, but it’s not close to good enough to win an NBA championship. Going back ten games, Green is 6-40 (15%) from the three-point arc. He has got to realize that the defense wants him to take that shot. He is not a Splash brother, and right now he’s not even a faint ripple brother. What he is however is a gifted passer and solid ball handler for his size. Golden State needs him to play to his strengths at the offensive end and resist the urge to shoot open perimeter shots – because right now he is open for a reason.